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VIDEO: Maui Braces For Dam’s ‘Imminent Failure’ Among Heavy Rains

March 8, 2021, 5:19 PM HST
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Evacuations are underway in Maui as a community braces for the “imminent failure” of the Kaupakalua Dam.

State and Maui County officials are closely monitoring the earthen dam in the Ha´ikū region of Maui after heavy rain caused water to overtop it Monday afternoon.

The county evacuation map shows approximately 30 parcels or lots below the Kaupakalua Dam, which is at Kaupakalua Gulch about five miles east of the Ha´ikū turnoff on the Hana Highway. Anyone who lives in the vicinity of this dam has been asked to evacuate immediately, according to a press release from the State Department of Land and Natural Resources.    

The parcel of land where the Kaupakulua Reservoir is located is owned by East Maui Irrigation. Mahi Pono owns 50% of East Maui Irrigation, while A&B owns the other half.

Mahi Pono contacted the DLNR dam safety program at around 1:30 pm to report extremely heavy rainfall and indicated the spillway was running very high. This initiated a level 2 emergency, which means there is potential for failure. At 2:50 pm, Mahi Pono reported the dam was starting to overtop the embankment.  

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The Kaupakalua Dam is one of the oldest agricultural dams on Maui. It has a maximum storage capacity of 210 acre feet and can hold 68-million gallons of water. It is 57-feet high and 400-feet long. It’s an earthen dam constructed in 1885, the DLNR said.  

Kaupakalua evacuation map. Image courtesy of Hawaii State DLNR.
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Heavy rain began in upcountry Maui around mid-morning and also flooded roads in the Olinda-Makawao area. The rain was punctuated with nearly constant thunder.  

Currently, evacuations are underway for everyone in vicinity of Kaupakalua Dam and makai of Kaupakalua Road. People near heavily flowing streams also should evacuate or seek higher ground. 

Evacuation shelters are being opened at the Paia Community Center and Hana High School. 

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“The state is assisting Maui County as residents and visitors downstream of the Kaupakalua Dam evacuate at this hour,” said Gov. David Ige. “The health and safety of our residents and visitors in Ha´ikū and surrounding areas remain our top priority as heavy rain is posing a potential threat to the dam. The state and county are closely monitoring the situation. Please stay out of the area until the danger has passed and continue to monitor local media for updates.”

Anyone living below the Kaupakalua Dam has been asked to evacuate immediately until water levels subside and the integrity of the dam is determined.  More information will be released as it becomes available.

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